For someone who claims to be uncomfortable as the center of attention, Alicia Michilli is very comfortable with her recent rise to cyber-fame after her “America’s Got Talent” audition received over 200,000 views. The video, which dubs her as “shy girl,” has brought her voice into the national spotlight, and it has given her the online prestige necessary for what she calls “the next step moving up.” It certainly is another step, because she has advanced to the next round.
Michilli may be a TV star, but what truly makes her special is her talent. She discovered it at a young age when she first started tinkering around on the piano and guitar at her home in Detroit. Her father, she says, would play old country and soul records while they did the household chores.
This music continued to influence Michilli’s life and choices throughout her teenage years, during which she began to write her first soul songs and decide what she wanted to do. After joining the Nashville Songwriters Association International, she was exposed to the great number of opportunities available to artists in the city, and her path became clear. At age 20, she moved to Nashville and became a hostess at “Noshville” — a job that, despite its notorious long waits, gave her the face-to-face interaction with Nashvilleans that she had hoped for. One of these Nashvilleans was blues musician Keb’ Mo’.
Michilli had idolized Keb’ Mo’ since her early days in Detroit, and when he walked into the restaurant she saw it as the opportunity of a lifetime. After placating her boss with the defense “I will die if I don’t at least hug him,” she left her post and introduced herself. This introduction proved to be a turning point in Michilli’s career, because not long after they met Keb’ Mo’ invited Michilli to join him onstage at Fontanel for a sold-out show.
Mo’ was also the intermediary between Michilli and the guys at Purple House Studio, where her self-titled debut album was recorded and completed in February, 2015.
The release of Alicia Michilli was perfectly timed — the young singer finally had a following in Music City, and just a few months after her album dropped, she auditioned for “America’s Got Talent,” progressed to the “bootcamp round,” and became the center of national attention.
What kind of new opportunities have come your way since the “America’s Got Talent” video went viral?
Well, so far I have grown out of being a ninety-year-old woman in a tiny body. I think I’ve officially gotten my feet wet with this whole social media nonsense that everybody’s freaking out about. I used to be like “what even is a tweet?” Other than social media, I’ve gotten a couple of really cool messages from people like “do you want some gigs once America’s Got Talent wraps up?” So, that’s pretty cool. It’s finally moving I guess.
What is it like being a solo artist in Nashville? Does the music community make it easier or more difficult to get exposure?
Honestly, I’ve had so many magnificent opportunities down here. Like, compared to where I was, just the teamwork of the music community down here is so cool. That’s just the vibe down here, like “I know about a gig going on, do you want to play?” whereas back home in Detroit it’s all just kind of a competition. There’s not a lot of teamwork. Not all the time, but most of the time. It’s a very weird vibe. A lot of people aren’t really into the whole original music thing. It’s a lot of cover artists.
Your self-titled debut album is reminiscent of the early-1950’s RnB/swing music. Do you see yourself as a modern version of that kind of artist? Is this sound making a comeback?
Oh, yeah! Definitely. I grew up on sixties Motown, and that’s where my heart and soul are. I don’t want to remake it necessarily, but I definitely want to keep those roots. It’s just such great music. It’s such a time peace, and that whole era was just awesome. You know, who doesn’t love Motown? Motown Mondays at “The Five Spot” are my favorite. For something like Motown to be that much of a staple in the music world, and for it to make people so happy, it’s just important to keep something like that alive.
You’ve seen phenomenal success for a young singer. Where do you see yourself in the future? What has to happen for you to believe that you’ve “made it”?
I think everybody’s got to make their own definition of “making it.” For me, I feel that I’ve grown a lot, which is great. However, I want to progress, and I’d love to start touring and opening for people. I mean, if I could open for Amos Lee or Lamontaigne or somebody like that, I would really feel like I was on the next step moving up. Ultimately, I’d love to be a big time solo artist.
Right now, I’m looking to start another EP. I want to stay consistent with putting out really good material that makes people feel good. I’m really adamant about making the listener feel good. That’s my job, you know? The stuff that I grew up on is like my feels, you know? The Motown is my feels! I’d love to get a little more funky on the next EP.
In a few years, you’re hired to do the scoring for three pictures: Shrek 12, Titanic 2, and a Tarantino movie about the ancient Egyptians. However, you only have time to do one. Which one do you choose?
Excellent question. My answer is Titanic 2. I realize it might be about zombies, but I’m in, dude. I’m in.